Category: <span>Trips</span>

Big Dutch Vacation – Part 1

As another update to this long-delayed post, now that it’s been well over a year since the vacation, it’s right damn time I post this thing.  So, here goes.

These are some terribly late entries for a vacation we took from the 3rd to the 16th of October in 2015.  Yep, I’m a delayed gratification blogger.  Oops.  Well, as the saying goes, better late than never!  I’m going to split this into three parts since there’s A LOT to go over and it’s just incredibly too long for one single post.  This is another one of those drive-your-own-boat holidays with a few days on each end to give us breathing space.  It was really an incredible vacation, and I can’t wait to get back to Holland.

Saturday, 3 October 2015:  Our flight was in the evening, so we had time to burn and visit with family while we dropped off the dogs with my husband’s parents.  Everything went as planned with the flight, but neither of us got much sleep since we had a fidgeter sitting between us.  Husband likes the aisle seat for his long legs, I prefer the comfort of the window, and while the flight had an empty space between us that morning, the gamble didn’t pay off and we ended up with this guy who would move/wiggle/fidget in his seat every 20 seconds for the whole flight.  *sigh*


Sunday, 4 October 2015:  We landed in Amsterdam at 7:30am in super heavy fog, collected our bags and took a cab to our hotel instead of hopping the train with all of our bags.  Apparently there’s a huge fleet of Teslas in Amsterdam that do the runs from the airport, so it was pretty neat to get to sit inside one (well played, Tesla).  We were only able to drop our bags at the hotel (Fine Seasons Hotel), but we could return after about 10am to check into the room and get settled.  We went on a little walk around the corner to find a cafe for some coffee and hit upon almost the only thing open that early on a Sunday, ‘t Loosje.  Had a really nice breakfast and filled the caffeine requirement, and then took a slow meandering walk around the market that had set up while we were eating on the Nieuwmarkt square, then a slow walk back to the hotel to settle into the room by 11am.  The room was a basement room, pretty small, but enough to sleep in comfortably, so I really didn’t mind for the price.  We contemplated taking a nap, but decided to power through instead.  By then, the fog had started to lift and it was turning into a really nice day.  We set off for Het Scheepvaartmuseum which was just a short walk from the hotel.  Starting outdoors, we toured the Amsterdam, a replica  ship from 1749 that served the Dutch East India Company.  Really beautiful, but rather small – husband couldn’t even stand up straight in the captain’s quarters!

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After taking a stroll around the indoor exhibits, we went off to an old favorite, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, having passed a sheep tied up on the street nearby.  Odd, but hey, Amsterdam!   We sat outside, filling ourselves on delicious beer, cheese, and sausage and chatting with the folks at our table.  Since our last visit, the inside had seen quite an upgrade, so it’s great to see them doing so well!  We stayed right up to closing when the light was fading and took a slow walk back, stopping briefly at another bar near the hotel, Moes.  They were featuring a tap takeover of a local beer called the 7 Virtues (7 Deugden).  The bartender was super friendly and talked a bunch of geek talk about beer.  Went back to the hotel and fell right asleep.

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Monday, 5 October 2015: Got up and went to have breakfast (espresso and something to eat) and found a little place down the street open.  Nothing spectacular, but they had wake-up fuel (ESPRESSO) and this crazy thing that we’ve dubbed the pizza hot dog – it’s pizza toppings on top of a hot dog.  The place  doesn’t even have a listing on Google Maps, it’s  that small, but it served its purpose.  Gathered our bags and set off on a train to Almere Muziekwijk to meet Peter, a man I had been corresponding with via email about all sorts of genealogy and Dutch related stuff.  He offered to meet us at Almere and then drop us at Lelystad so that we could meet, and because the train was passing so close to his home anyway.  Peter collected us and took us to his home to meet his wife.  We chatted for a little while and had some tea and cookies before heading off across the Zuiderzee Works.  The highway serves as a dike that keeps the sea water out of the land below.  There’s a saying that gets tossed around a lot, “God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”  The engineering involved in keeping water out of lands well below sea level is really phenomenal – the pumps, dikes, and locks that all work together to keep the land below dry is truly amazing.  They use the land closest to the dike here as a natural preserve so that in case of flooding, there’s a natural place for the water to go before destroying the towns.  Smart, these people.  Peter dropped us at Lelystad (a city that didn’t exist until 1967 when the land was reclaimed from the Zuiderzee) at about 1:30 and we were off to Akkrum.  We arrived at Akkrum around 3, but ended up waiting about 40 minutes for a taxi since it’s not exactly a bustling hub of activity.  The taxi driver was nice though and took us straight to the marina for Yachtcharter Wetterwille, costing only €15.  We met Alex there who told us we could’ve just called them for a pickup at the train station.  Oops!  He went into the basics about the boat, the Mistral, rules, etc, and we were handed the keys, a set of maps, and sent on our way!  Fortunately, we’d had some experience with this sort of vacation and the husband is a sea captain, so this is all old hat for us.  The maps did take a little getting used to, but I’ll get into that later on.  Sailing ends for the day pretty much at dusk, so our first stop was at the Watersportbedrijf ANJA in Grou.  Each marina has its own fees that aren’t included in our boat rental fee, so the cost for the night was €9.45, paid to the harbor master who visited us once we were tied up, just as the sun was setting over the harbor.  The yachtcharter had done a shopping trip for us to get us prepared for the first day or so of food, but we found a grocery store (Poiesz) a short walk from the marina to fill in the gaps and keep us supplied for a few more days.  We made pasta for dinner and then the husband taught me how to play cribbage.  I didn’t win, but at least I didn’t get skunked!  We turned in earlyish, around 10:30pm.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015: Got up, made breakfast on the boat, and got underway around 9:30am.  Took what the husband thought was the right way, but after navigating a bit, we found the next fixed, non-opening bridge was MUCH too low for us to go under and had to turn around, knocking us an hour back.  However, that small mistake gained us a bunch of map reading skills.  You see, the main canal map comes with an almanac.  Every bridge/lock/etc comes with a number that corresponds to a number in the almanac that’s only written in Dutch.  Neither of us are fluent in Dutch, but I spent some time with Duolingo before our vacation and had a decent enough comprehension of basic words, plus our cellphone plan includes international roaming for free, so we had Google Translate to help when there was an unknown word.  We had assumed the bridge heights on the map (major bridges have clearance heights listed next to the almanac reference number) were in meters, but they were in decimeters, so what we thought was a bridge with a 2.6 meter clearance was actually a bridge with a .26 meter clearance.  Our boat had a clearance of 2.4 meters, so that wasn’t going to work at all.  However, we were now getting the hang of going between the canal map and almanac and felt pretty secure in the route we planned from there on, carefully checking the bridges the whole way to our final destination that day of Leeuwarden.  We made it to Leeuwarden by 1:30pm and the weather was still drizzly, foggy, and a bit chilly as it had been all morning.  We’re not bothered much by rain, so it really wasn’t a problem since it wasn’t coming down in buckets.  To make it into  Leeuwarden, there are a series of drawbridges that cost a total of €7, paid all together at one bridge.  The bridge tender hangs a wooden shoe attached to a fishing pole out of his office window and somehow manages to land the shoe right in your hands every time.  You stuff exact payment inside, wave a thank you, and the bridge tender  pulls up the shoe.  We didn’t have to wait terribly long at any of the bridges, but we were also part of a line of a few boats advancing through each one.  After we tied up next to a pretty spot off the Prinsentuin (a lovely public park/garden), we paid €12.27 to moor for the night.  Our first stop in Leeuwarden was the Boomsma distillery and museum.  The popular drink is a bitter liquor called Beerenburg, and Boomsma has been in the Beerenburg business for 125 years.  They also make gin, aged gin, blackberry and elderberry liquor, and a few other spirits.  We watched a short video on the history and production of Beerenburg and got to have a few samples.  We walked around Leeuwarden a bit, making a stop at an amazing cheese shop, Zuivelhoeve, and eventually ending up at the Oldehove.


Oldehove is the tower of an unfinished church began in 1529.  Unfortunately the tower began to sag and construction was stopped, the church eventually demolished, but the tower remains, leaning at an odd angle at the end of the square.  Never put off by a couple of steps, we went in and grabbed tickets for our ascent to the top, a climb of only 183 steps.  At the top of the first floor of the tower, the steps flip to the other side of the tower (an attempt to help straighten the tower by adding weight to the other side) and  climb up to the top in a narrow spiral staircase.  Much like the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the tower felt weird to climb – even though you know you’re going up the stairs, at times the angle is enough to feel as though you’re not going upwards at all.  At the very top of the tower there’s a glass platform that hangs over the outside wall of the tower letting you stare down past your feet to the ground a few stories below.

We made our way back down the tower finally and headed back to the boat for dinner at 5pm.  Part of the benefit of having the boat is that we try to make our own breakfast and dinner most days so that the vacation is a little more affordable (and healthy).  We went back out after dinner to have a few beers around town, but things were pretty quiet and closed up around town.  We turned in early, heading back to the boat and made it just as the skies opened up and it started raining buckets.

(Part 2  is on its way, standby!  I’ll add a link here to Part 2 once it’s published.)

Scotland 2014 – Part 3

Day 8, June 3:
Got up around 7am, had breakfast on the boat, then departed from Fort William around 8:30.  Made it to Gairlochy locks at 9:30am.  We were apparently the first folks through the Moy Swing Bridge since the lock tender cranked furiously to get the bridge open for us.  Pretty neat to see that work.  We made it to Laggan Locks by 11:30am and made a quick stop to drop recycling before heading on through Laggan Avenue, a beautiful pine tree lined section of the canal.  I had some time to relax and knit since we had sailed this way before and I knew what to expect.  We hit Cullochy Locks at 2:00 after a short stop at the Great Glen park to have lunch at their pontoon.  The morning’s rain had mostly stopped by the time we were far enough from Fort William and it was shaping up to be a really pretty day.  From what we heard from others, it ALWAYS rains at Fort William, so our experience was pretty well average.  We also stopped at the Well of the Seven Heads again (it’s a pretty spot to tie up) where we were greeted by two swans and a batch of cygnets!  Papa swan was having nothing of our being there and demanded bread from the boat.  He almost didn’t let Doug off the boat since they were right up against the stern with their cygnets – there was some hissing and lunging involved.  We made Kytra lock at 3 and took our time getting to Fort Augustus by 3:30.  Doug made a spectacular parallel parking job (at the end of the time lapse below), and the boat behind us was so impressed that they recruited Doug to help with locking down.  The Lisa, the large sailboat behind us, had a crew of four seniors (pensioners if you’re British), and Doug was more than happy to lend a hand for such a lovely vessel.  We met the crew later for a pint or two at the Lock inn  and hung around with them till about 10pm.  A great time!

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Day 9, June 4:
Got up early to catch a shower before the facilities filled up.  The shower facilities at Fort Augustus stink like wet sheep, but are still usable.  No other facility was quite as clean as the Gairlochy facility (except Caley’s marina), so I was a little bit spoiled I suppose.  We did a little backtracking this day because we had made such great time to Fort Augustus.  We took our time getting going in the morning and got underway around 9:15am.  Made it to Kytra Locks at 9:45 where we saw Linda again and got another gold star for proper life vest use.  Went through Cullochy at 10:45 after a short wait for another boat coming through.  Stopped again at the Well of the Seven Heads for a rest and a snack then turned back around to Cullochy Locks where we stopped and got out to see the Bridge of Oich.  We went through the lock at 1:30, then made it back through Kytra by 2:30 where we stopped to set up a little barbecue lunch with a single-use barbeque tray.  The lock tender’s dog was pretty interested in what we were doing and came over for some head scritches.  We made it back to Fort Augustus and went right down through the locks, having made it just in time for an opening.  Going back down that staircase is definitely quicker than going up.  We tied up at the bottom at 5:30, took a walk, had a pint at the Lock Inn, then it was back to the boat for a Doug-cooked meal, fajitas!

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Day 10, June 5:
We slept in a little, but were up for breakfast by 8:30 and pulled away from the pontoon at 9:30 into a drizzly, foggy, but very calm Loch Ness.  Loch Ness is probably one of the longer segments of the trip, so we only made it to Urquhart Bay Harbor at 12:30.  We stopped there to make lunch and then we were back off into the fog at 1pm.  The fog was finally starting to lift a little, but it had gotten pretty chilly.  It was still raining when we made it to Dochgarroch Lock at 2:30.  Shortly after leaving Urquhart Bay Harbor, we picked up two stowaways – two Mallard ducks had flown over and landed on the roof!  We fed the very friendly ducks a slice of bread and they hung around with us for about an hour, preening and drinking rain water off the roof before flying off.  After Dochgarroch Lock was the Tomnahurich bridge, and then we slowly sailed back into the Caley Cruisers marina.  A crew member came out to refuel the boat, then we tied up and were all settled with the bill by 5:30pm.  Made dinner, packed up, and relaxed for the evening.

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Day 11, June 6:
Got up, had breakfast, and handed the keys to the boat back over.  The VERY kind staff at Caley Cruisers offered to take us to the train station which was really VERY nice of them!  We hopped a train at I think 9:45am and took the four hour trip back to Edinburgh.  Pretty uneventful train ride, and we were both kinda bummed to be leaving such a great week behind.  Back in Edinburgh, we took a cab to the Grassmarket Hotel (it was MUCH warmer in Edinburgh and neither of us were interested in walking with our big backpacks.  The room wasn’t quite ready at the hotel, so we had a pint at the White Hart Inn, and then got settled in our room.  The room was a lot smaller than the previous room (three sides of the bed were flush up against the wall), but it really didn’t matter since we were just going to be sleeping there.  Headed off to see about finding some whisky to bring home (two half-liter bottles in addition to the Ben Nevis 10).  The shop keeper even let Doug fill his own bottle out of the casks lined up on the wall.  Walked around a bit since we hadn’t seen much of the other side of Edinburgh beyond the train station, and ended up at the Cloisters again for dinner.  Back to bed early since our flight was supposed to be at 8am.



Day 12, June 7:
Woke up to get ready for our flight when Doug realized that the flight had been delayed two hours.  Instead of rushing to get ready, we took our time, had breakfast at the bar next door, and settled up with the hotel at a leaisurely pace.  Hopped a cab, and made it to the airport with plenty of time since the flight had been delayed further – the inbound flight was late, so the departing flight on the same aircraft was running behind.  We finally boarded and headed back home, sad to leave such a great vacation behind.

Final Thoughts
We had some lessons learned on packing and grocery shopping that I’d like to share in case anyone reading this is looking for tips.

Things to Pack:

  • a deck of  cards
  • clothes pins for hanging towels up
  • binoculars to help sight buoys and wildlife
  • a flag to represent your country or persuasion of piracy
  • male to male headphone cable for your mp3 player to plug into the jack on the stereo
  • inverter for the cigarette lighter port on the dash

Things we forgot or almost forgot to buy first round included paper towels, tissues, salt and pepper, sugar, cream, tea, and coffee.  Keep a journal or ship’s log!  It helped me go back and write up the blog posts and is just a fun way to remember what happened over the trip, even if it’s just a few lines about how neat the Moy Swing Bridge was or how far you travelled  that day.  Don’t plan too much – the bridge/lock openings don’t run on any sort of schedule and it works best to take them as they come and not worry about time.  We had PLENTY of time to get there and back and could’ve even taken longer getting out to Fort William with no problem.  Overall?  I’d do this again in a heartbeat!  I didn’t at all like the one big Caribbean cruise we went on (too much structure, too little to do on the boat in between ports), but this really had the right pace of sight seeing and relaxation time.  Too much relaxation time (like at an all-inclusive resort) is SO ANNOYING to me – I like to go-go-go and see everything there is to see, but at the same time those go-go-go vacations never really feel like a vacation once you get home.  This felt like a vacation and, I keep saying it, but it was really just the right mix of time to relax and running around seeing the sights.  We’ve already started looking at taking boating holidays in other places around the world since this seems to be a pretty popular thing to do in Europe and there are a bunch of no-license-required waterways that allow novice boaters to have at it.  So, that was our Scotland vacation!  Can’t wait for the next one.

Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

Scotland 2014 – Part 2

Before starting the section on the cruise of the Caledonian Canal, I wanted to add in a little overview of the canal and our boat.  The boat we took was the Isle of Skye, a 34 ft cruiser with one bedroom.  I’ve seen smaller apartments, so the size worked out just fine, even if Doug’s feet hung off the end of the bed (he’s also really tall, so his feet hang off the end of most beds).  Our cruise was along the length of the Caledonian Canal, built by Thomas Telford, completed in 1822.  By the time it was completed, the railroad had largely taken over and boats had gotten too large for the canal, so it was pretty much useless as its intended purpose for commerce.  Today, it’s used only for pleasure craft, full of hire boats, cruises, kayakers and canoers as well as hikers who walk the towpath.  It was a 60 mile journey for us from the Caley marina to Fort William.  We didn’t do the locks on the ends to go into the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea since both ends involve a long flight of locks and aren’t included in the boat hire agreement.

Day 4, May 30:
Got up and had breakfast at the hotel (included in the cost and always a great breakfast).  Gathered our things and got a cab to the marina which was pretty close by, but quite the hike with bags and across some busy roads.  Checked in at the marina with Caley Cruisers earlier than expected, so they got us started right away on the overview video which goes over the route including some of the tricky spots to navigate as well as basic safety procedures.  They’re really proud of the video and it does a great job of explaining things for the novice boater (me).  Husband is a captain on a rather large boat currently off the coast of India, so navigation is nothing new to him, but that particular vessel was, so he paid attention to the handling instructions (turning to port, using the thruster, etc), and I paid close attention to the instructions for the lines and locking procedures.  After the video was over, a staff member took us over to the Co-Op to get groceries for the week.  The fridge on the boat is about the size of a college dorm fridge, so it wasn’t quite enough for the whole week’s groceries, but enough to get us to Fort William.  We kept it pretty simple – sandwiches, pasta and sauce, a seasoned/ready-to-cook chicken package, and bacon and eggs for breakfast.  We did plan on cooking on board most of the trip with an occasional meal out.  Once we got back and got everything settled on board, they brought Bob over to run our handling and on-board safety briefing way earlier than expected which was SO nice.  It was really great to be able to set out earlier rather than wait for everyone else to show up and leave as a group.  Bob was a captain on a tanker ship, so he was immediately comfortable with Doug and instructed me to untie and Doug to grab the helm and take us out.  As we motored down the short bit of canal before the first bridge, Bob gave us instructions on speed, RPMs, the depth of the canal, passing other vessels, etc.  We waited a few minutes  for the bridge to open and motored on through, then Bob had Doug execute a turn in the narrow canal which went perfectly.  I then got instructions on how to tie up using their preferred method and tied the boat up alongside the dock at the other side of the bridge.  Bob called the office to be picked up, we signed some paperwork saying we were properly briefed about lifejackets, safety procedures, handling, etc, and we were left to go on our way to the first lock!  I have to admit, even if Doug was not already a licensed captain, I’d still feel really comfortable about taking the boat out with just two of us on board.  Doug got out our Captain and First Mate hats (he’s a nerd, in case you didn’t know yet) to make the trip official.  With Bob back on land, we untied and headed up to our first lock, Dochgarroch lock  and after a short wait because the lock tender was at lunch, we went through without a problem.  Sailed through Loch Dochfour and then into Loch Ness.  The day was beautiful and sunny, and Loch Ness was like glass – completely still and tranquil.  It’s apparently not a common occurrence, so we took advantage of the day to stop at Foyers and hike up to the falls.  Caley Cruisers only allows stops at Foyers  during good weather, so we were given the thumbs up when we dropped off Bob.  The hike was pretty long and steep, but it was GORGEOUS even though Scottish Hydro had reduced the falls that day to a mere trickle.  The view  out into Loch Ness was stunning too.  Hiked back down and cruised the rest of Loch Ness.  We had Fort Augustus in our sights and arrived at about 6pm.  Tied up, took a nice walk around town, had dinner on the boat, a little whisky, and then settled into bed.

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Day 5, May 31:
We had breakfast on board again and had a bit of a wait in the morning to start our way up the 5 locks.  We finally got going around 10:30am.  After going under the bridge, we went through the first lock on the boat as usual and then got out to tow the boat up on foot.  Our instructions per the lock tender were that I was the carrot in the front, and Doug the mule at the back.  The person at the back does the majority of the pulling, and the person up front steers, keeping the boat parallel to the lock walls.  It was a busy morning, so the lock was packed with sailboats and other hire boats.  I even remembered to put the Little Cyclops camera on the railing so we have a neat time lapse of our journey through the locks!

After we were at the top of Fort Augustus, having answered a ton of questions from curious tourists and heard an earful about the importance of Scottish Independence from a lock tender, we motored off to Kytra lock which was a pretty tall step up.  The lock tender there is named Linda and she handed out gold stars for proper life vest use.  Shortly after Kytra was Cullochy Lock and then the Aberchalder Swing Bridge which we sailed under with plenty of room.  We made a short stop at the Invergarry Castle ruins at 3pm.  The ruins are right by the dock, so it was just a short walk.  Back on the boat and another stop at the Well of the Seven Heads to grab a few supplies at the store there and see the monument.  Heading onwards, we sailed through Loch Oich and then under the Laggan Swing Bridge.  We arrived at Laggan Locks at 4pm for a small step down – the locks had all gone up until this point.  Then a short sail through Ceann Loch and Loch Lochy, and we made it to Gairlochy Locks at 6pm to tie up for the night.  We really wanted to hustle and make it to Fort William that evening, hence the short stops, but the hold up in the morning at Fort Augustus really set us back.  It wasn’t terrible since the view at Gairlochy was beautiful!  The mountains were still covered in snow and the air had a pleasant chill after a long day in the sun.  It was definitely getting colder, the further on we went.  Not parkas-and-mittens cold, but throw-on-a-fleece cool.  Also worth noting is that the facilities (showers/bathrooms) at Gairlochy were IMMACULATE.  I’m almost glad we stopped here for the night instead of blazing through to Fort William because it really was serene, and we got to watch a group of hikers brave the cold water of the canal for a swim.  They didn’t last long, and there were a lot of high pitched squeals at the temperature of the water.  Dinner and a show!

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Day 6: June 1:
We were up early and ready for the lock tender who let us through first thing at 8:30am, and through the bridge there as well shortly after.  We sailed right on by the Moy Swing Bridge (the only original bridge remaining, still needs to be hand-cranked open), and made it to Fort William at 10am.  The early start definitely made up for the prior day’s delays!  The stopping point is at the top of the Banavie locks, near Fort William, not directly in Fort William, so in order to get into town, you need to hop the train (which is what we did for   £4.20 for the two of us) or call a cab.  The train really only runs through that stop a few times a day, so even if it’s cheaper, it’s not incredibly convenient.  It was Sunday, so not a lot was open, but we had time to burn walking around the town.  Had lunch at the Grog and Gruel which was a little overpriced, but wild boar burgers, so I wasn’t complaining.  Great selection of cask ales too!  It started to drizzle, so we headed to Morrisons to grab groceries for the rest of the week, and then hailed a cab back to Banavie ( £9, really not bad).  Found the lock tenders and hooked up power for the night, refilled our water tank.  Had a few Strongbows and took in the scenery – the top of Banavie locks is a really pretty view of the Nevis range, even with the drizzle.  The rain did let up, so we took a LONG walk to try to find the Tor Castle ruins.  We never did find them, but we did find a passageway under the canal – it lets rain water flow under the canal and even has a roadway fit for cars!  Really an incredible feat of engineering when you think about just how large the canal is.

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Day 7: June 2:
We got up at 7am and had breakfast while it POURED rain.  We grabbed a cab for the Ben Nevis Distillery and made the 10:30am tour.  It was a great little tour, and yet again, we were told how important it is that Scotland gain its independence since the British tax on whisky is something in the neighborhood of 80 pence per pound sold.  It was sort of interesting how vocal the guide was about the topic given how controversial the subject seems to be.  The whisky taste at the end was delightful and we decided to bring home a bottle.  By the end of the tour it had mostly stopped raining, so we took the foot path to the Inverlochy Castle ruins.  The path continued on to the heart of Fort William and since the weather was nice, we went ahead and walked into town.  Had lunch at Crofters which was really affordable and good.  Even met a woman from California who sat at the table next to us.  Finished lunch and a chat with the Californian and went over to the train station to see about seats for the Jacobite Steam Train.  We had checked online the day before and it seemed to be sold out, but the site said to show up since they may have tickets available to purchase that day, cash only.  Sure enough, there were TONS of seats available and the train was hardly full at all.  The train ride was two hours to Mallaig with a short stop at Glenfinnan.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do at Mallaig once we arrived there, and it happened to be raining again.  We did stop for a pint at the Marine Bar and Doug had fish and chips at Jaffy’s which he proclaimed to be the best he’s ever, EVER had.  We hopped back on the train after the almost two hour stop at Mallaig and arrived back at Fort William at 8pm (remember, it’s still broad daylight at 8pm).  The whole trip was beautiful, seeing the hills roll by, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, sheep, lakes, brief glimpses of the coastline.  Stunning.  And, a great way to spend a sort of gloomy, drizzly day.  We grabbed a few more necessities at Morrisons and then hopped a cab back to Banavie for our last night in Fort William.

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Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

Scotland 2014 – Part 1

I think this is best in three parts because the vacation was kind of huge and amazing and it will be SO hard to fit this into just one post.

TL;DR: The vacation was possibly the best we’ve ever taken.  We spent two days in Edinburgh and then hopped up to Inverness for a day.  Then it was on to a boat to cruise the Caledonian canal for a week, up to Fort William and then back to Inverness and then a final day in Edinburgh before heading home.  The pace was just right – we had time in a busy city, sightseeing, hanging in crowded pubs, but we also had relaxation time on the boat to enjoy the beautiful scenery and stop to take nice hikes.  Honestly, top 3, possible top vacation ever.

On to the detail for those of you who like to read  🙂

Day 1, May 27:
We landed in Edinburgh around 10am, collected our bags and hopped a cab to our hotel  (I think about   £25), the Grassmarket Hotel.  Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we dropped our bags with reception and popped over to the White Hart for a pint and something to eat.  I remembered they had Haggis Nachos, so that was a necessity.  Had a few pints along with lunch and by the time we were done, it was time to grab our room.  The rooms at the hotel were small (think NYC size rooms) with very little room around the bed, but plenty of storage underneath the bed and in a small open closet space.  We set back out to walk around Edinburgh, up to the Scott Monument, Edinburgh Castle, and winding around some small streets and such.  Upon the recommendation of a friend, we went to the Edinburgh Dungeon, a totally touristy thing to do, but pretty hilarious.  If you pay attention, you get a decent overview of Edinburgh’s seedy history from Burke and Hare to the plague and hangings in Grassmarket, and if you don’t pay attention, you get a fun show and carnival ride.  Later that evening, we found some local Ingress players and went to the Cloisters bar with them for a few pints.  It really was a fun evening and we had an absolute blast meeting Scottish Ingressers, but we were completely exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel and slept VERY soundly.

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Day 2, May 28:
On the suggestion of a coworker of Doug’s, we took a short train ride to the town of Stirling to see Stirling Castle.  I can’t really say which is better – Stirling or Edinburgh Castle – because they’re SO different from eachother.  Stirling feels more like castle/residence where Edinburgh feels more castle/fortress.  Spent most of the day wandering around the castle (there’s SO much to see), Argyll’s Lodging, and the small town.  Had a late lunch, stopped in a little candy shop where we found Irn Bru rock candy.  Took the train back to Edinburgh and went to Brew Dog for a few beers.  They make some really unique brews that are hard to find in the USA  so that was a real treat.  While we were sitting at the bar, we saw that they had Victory beer in bottles in the fridge!  We live really close to the Victory brewery, so it was crazy to see beer from home in a pub in Scotland.  Headed back to the Cloisters again for dinner since we didn’t have dinner there the night prior and were told it was really great.  Also, the selection of cask ales is incredible.

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Day 3, May 29:
Got up, found breakfast, and hopped the train to Inverness.  It’s about a four hour train ride, so we go into Inverness around 2pm.  The plan was to hang out around Inverness the night before picking up our boat at the marina, so we booked a room with an old favorite, the Strathness House.  The owners recognized us immediately and welcomed us back – SUCH a nice place, I can’t get over how lovely the hotel is from the staff, location, and everything about this hotel.  Walked around Inverness for a while before having a pint at Blackfriars (beer tourism is just as important as regular tourism, in case you hadn’t noticed the trend!) where we met some Inverness Ingressers briefly.  We had dinner at Hootananny, only to find that they had switched their Thai menu to a more traditional Scottish menu – no complaints from me!  The thai was good, but traditional Scottish fare is delicious.  Walked around some more, enjoying the extra daylight at that latitude – it doesn’t really get dark till after 11pm or so, and only stays dark for a few hours that time of year.  It’s probably the hardest part about travelling to Scotland in the summer since my internal clock is based on daylight – getting dark?  Must be about 8:30pm!  Nope, 11pm.  Really a mind blow.

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Thus ends part one!  It’s a little short, but I wanted to separate this part of the trip from the boat cruise which I’ll split into two parts.  Having these first few days to adjust to the time zone (and extra daylight) REALLY helped us get on schedule for the boat.  I don’t think we would have done quite as well if we had arrived and gone straight to the cruise.


Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

Scotland – August 2012 – Part 2

Wednesday, 1 August 2012:
We didn’t really have any plans again, so we set out to see what we could get to by bus around Inverness.  We were told that the Glen Ord distillery was a short bus ride away, so we decided to do that.  Visiting distilleries is always fun (especially the sample at the end) and this one happened to produce a single malt that was not available in the US, so that was a real treat.  From there, we took the bus a few stops back to the little town of Beauly where we had lunch and explored the old Beauly Priory.  The priory is another ruin, so even though it was cold and rainy (again), I was still pretty happy to be there with the camera.  We made it back to our hotel for a quick change, then it was off for a dinner, and a pint or two at our favorite pub in Inverness.


Thursday, 2 August 2012:
We were up to catch a 7:30 bus from the Inverness bus station to go all the way up to Orkney.  At the time, it seemed like a good way to get there without spending more than just the day there (bringing along luggage, etc).  We probably should’ve made the trip to Orkney for a day or two, but it ended up being a nice primer, should we ever get the chance to go again and spend more time.  The bus ride involved a tour guide, who did a great job explaining the sites as we went along.  Finally we made it to a very foggy John O’Groats and hopped the ferry up to Orkney where we met a smaller bus with a driver/guide.  We stopped first at Kirkwall, grabbed some sandwiches for the bus, and saw St. Magnus Cathedral.  Then it was off to Skara Brae, a site I had wanted to see since I was a child and our school was visited by the author of a book about Skara Brae.  Then it was off to the Ring of Brodgar, a quick stop at the Italian chapel, and then back to the ferry at 5pm.  We made it back to Inverness around 8pm where we got dinner and then collapsed back at our hotel.  The whole day was a whirlwind adventure, with lots of time spent on the bus, but both fantastic tour guides totally made up for the time spent sitting around.  We got a ton of information that we might not have gotten had we hopped a quick flight up and stayed in Orkney a few days.


Friday, 3 August 2012:
After much deliberation, we decided to rent a car for the day.  We debated over it a lot – Doug was pretty worried about driving on, “the wrong side of the road,” whereas I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t be too difficult.  The roads aren’t nearly as congested as ours, they don’t drive as fast, and I had a nervous co-pilot to help keep me in line.  We picked up the car  (a zippy little diesel, manual transmission Ford Fiesta) and made our first stop at the Black Isle Brewery.  Really fascinating operation – all organic, grown on the property, brewed on site, complete with a sweet brewery dog.  Then we were off, grabbed some food at a grocery store and found a nice spot in Elgin to have lunch.  Then, with our Diageo whisky passports in hand, we made a stop at the Cardhu Distillery where we were given a sample of two of their whiskys, but skipped the tour.  Our last stop was at Cragganmore where we took the last tour of the day.  None of the distilleries allow photos anywhere inside, but we did get samples!  We had dinner, watched a beautiful sunset, and had another pint at Hootananny, and then back to the hotel.  I wish we had decided on the car earlier since we would’ve had time to see more, but it was still an incredibly fun day.


Saturday, 4 August 2012:
We had signed up for an all day tour of the Isle of Skye, complete with an incredible guide/driver from the area.  We had originally planned on having two other people with us who were unable to make the trip last minute, so it was a little pricey, but for what we got (the information, being driven around and not getting lost, the knowledge, special little stop offs that aren’t on the maps), it was WELL worth it!  Our first big stop was at Eilean Donan castle, the famous castle that’s splashed all over travel advertisements for Scotland.  Gorgeous!  Husband wore his kilt for the day, so I managed to prod him to take a really great photo in front of the castle.  From there we were off to Skye.  We made some lovely, picturesque stops along the way including a quick stop to have a drink of fresh, peaty water coming off the hills before lunch.  From there we grabbed some ice cream and head off to see more sights which included Kilt Rock (and a hilarious warning sign).  The whole trip was amazing and I can’t get over how absolutely beautiful Scotland is.  We just have nothing at all like it at home.  We got back to our hotel around 7pm, and then were off to our dinner reservation at Hootananny.  We timed it so that we were able to have a table and see Tweed when they came on stage that night.  They’re a fantastic local band we had seen once before and couldn’t wait to see again.  They didn’t disappoint!  It was a great night.


Sunday, 5 August 2012:
We slept in a good bit after being out a little late the night prior.  We decided to take it easy and take a walk down to Floral Hall, the local botanical garden.  On the way there, we heard this strange sound, and as we turned around to see what it was, we saw a Border Collie bolting at top speed, dragging a sign behind him.  At one point, I’m sure the sign was upright (it was weighted, but clearly not enough) in front of a coffee shop, but something spooked the poor dog and he took off running.  He was coming straight for us, so as he got closer, husband and I lined up to block the path.  I stuck my foot in the middle of the sign which was a big metal frame with a swinging sign in the middle, coming out with a REALLY badly bruised ankle, which stopped the dog.  Moments later, a woman comes running around the corner yelling, “MY DOG!  MY DOG!  STOP HIM!”  Good thing we already had!  She came over, explained that he was a new rescue and had been badly treated on a farm before joining their family and was still easily spooked.  She thanked us over and over.  By this time, the coffee shop owner had come along to collect her sign while we snorgled the dog, applying liberal amounts of love.  Then, we were on our way to Floral Hall which was really beautiful.  The weather, unfortunately, was not – a persistent drizzle and chill – so the outside areas weren’t quite as nice as we’d have liked, but it was pretty nonetheless, and much bigger than it looks from the outside.  We walked back along the canal, looking for blackberries, but it was a touch too early in the season.  We went to lunch and took our time, and did a little shopping around Inverness.  Then it was back to the hotel for more of the Olympics while we watched my ankle turn even funnier colors.


Monday, 6 August 2012:
Hopped a train around 11am for Aberdeen.  Arrived at Aberdeen around 1pm.  Husband had a class to take which was our excuse for taking an extended vacation, so now it was time for him to get going on the class.  We did lunch at our local favorite, and were back to the hotel somewhat early for dinner and more olympics coverage.
Tuesday, 7 August 2012:
My ankle was still swollen and achy (not broken, just banged up) from the encounter with the dog in Inverness, so I took it easy and did some shopping.  Husband had his class, so I was on my own for the day.  We met up for dinner back at the hotel and got to bed early again since husband had to be up early again for class.
Wednesday, 8 August 2012:
I decided to head out to the beach with my camera since it was a nicer day and I was feeling up to a good walk.  It was still a little overcast, but the beach was empty and chilly which suited me just fine.  I wandered around, finding that a bunch of bright purple jellyfish had washed up on the beach along with a few red/orange ones as well.  The tide was out, so there was a LOT of beach to cover.  I zig zagged back and forth, watching snails inch along the rocks, wee little fish trapped in tide pools, and took great big breaths of fresh air.  I had finished my project for the Ravellenic Games, so I brought that along and grabbed some pictures of it too, since I had a nice background.  Met the husband back at the hotel for dinner.

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Thursday, 9 August 2012:
Husband passed his class earlier than expected, so we were off for a day in Stonehaven, a really lovely little town I enjoy visiting when we’re in Scotland.  We had a great lunch and some pints, and hten we were off to Dunnottar Castle.  The regular route up, along the coast, was closed for construction which was a shame, because it’s a really beautiful walk, so we ended up taking the shorter, detour route.  Then it was back down to Stonehaven and the railway station, and eventually Aberdeen.  We had dinner at Slain’s Castle which is this really neat pub inside an old cathedral.  It’s all decorated in a style Dracula himself would approve of – maybe a little goofy, but the theme works, and it’s definitely unique.
Friday, 10 August 2012:
We were up EARLY to be at the airport by 5am.  From there we hopped through London.  On the way home, our flight was diverted to Bangor, Maine since weather, severe thunderstorms, has closed the Newark Airport.  We sat there for I think two hours until the storms finally passed.  A bunch of other planes had landed as well, so we weren’t alone.  However, since it was an international flight, we couldn’t leave the plane, so it made for a boring situation, just sitting there waiting for the go-ahead to take off and then land again at home.


All in all, the trip was wonderful.  If I could’ve changed anything, it would’ve been to switch days off Inverness and over to Edinburgh or take a few of the Inverness days off to Orkney.  The little taste of Orkney did give us a hunger for more though, so hopefully on another trip, we’ll schedule in some more time!  The rest of the photos exist over here on Flickr.

Scotland – August 2012 – Part 1

This is going to be another VERY belated post about travel we did last year.  Seriously, I need to get better about putting updates on the blog in a more timely manner.  I’m splitting this up into two parts since it’s going to be WAY too long otherwise.  Here’s Part 1, Part 2 to follow!

For photos of the trip, see the complete gallery on Flickr, here.

Thursday-Friday, 26-27 July 2012:
Left Newark airport late in the evening on the 26th and arrived at Aberdeen, Scotland (via Heathrow) on July 27th.  Got a cab to the hotel which was in downtown Aberdeen with both my big travel backpack and husband’s.  Originally, husband was supposed to meet me in Aberdeen and take the train down to Edinburgh, but his schedule was changed last minute and we decided to meet in Edinburgh since he wasn’t going to make Aberdeen on time.  At that point, it was too late to change any of the reservations, so I just went ahead with the plan as it was.  The only downside was having to tote around his luggage and mine (two enormous backpacker type backpacks).  Had dinner and some ale at Old Blackfriar’s and went back to the hotel early to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  I had decided to participate in the Ravelympics Ravellenic Games, so I picked up my yarn and needles and cast on, somewhat tickled to be casting on while watching the opening ceremonies in the local time zone.
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Saturday, 28 July 2012:
Got up and walked the short walk to the railway station with both bags, and made it there for a 11am train.  Arrived in Edinburgh around 1pm where husband was already waiting for me.  He’d even checked into the hotel already!  We had  lunch and wandered around Edinburgh for a while.  Husband had been there years ago in college, so some of it was familiar for him.  Edinburgh was all decked out for the Olympics with a big olympic rings display setup on the hill, visibile for quite some distance.  We signed up for a tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience (the Platinum Tour), so around 6pm, we headed over there.  It was totally a touristy thing to do, but it ended up being very educational, and a fun way to start our trip.  The staff was very knowledgeable and we got to see the world’s largest whisky collection.  It was REALLY impressive to see all the bottles lined up like that on lighted shelving, dates ranging from the late 1800s up through the present.  The guide explained that most of the stuff wasn’t fit to drink anymore since the seals had come undone and it had been evaporating over time, but it’s still worth a lot.  We went on to have dinner and some ales and then it was off to bed, but not until we watched a little more of the Olympic coverage.


Sunday, 29 July 2012:
Got up and had breakfast and then it was off to tour Edinburgh Castle.  On the way up to the castle, we stopped in the gift shop where we sampled Bruadar whisky which was AMAZING.  A bottle may or may not have followed us home.  The castle was more than just a castle – it’s a whole complex of chaples, war memorials, prisons, residence for the guards, among many other things.  We were done with the castle, having seen the crown jewels and all, around noon, and headed off for lunch.  Then, it was off to The Real Mary King’s Close, a small alleyway that had been built on top of over the years and forgotten about.  The tour was FASCINATING – the way people lived, how tight and cramped the conditions were, but that they made do with what they had.  The close and the homes off the close, now underground, had largely been left as they were for hundreds of years.  Photos weren’t allowed since the Royal Exchange is above the close (security and all), but it was well worth the visit.  After that, we wandered around and had some ales, took a ghost tour of Edinburgh,  and had more ales and dinner before going back to the hotel.


Monday, 30 July 2012:
We decided to head out to Incholm Island for the day since the weather was nice, and the trip involved a boat ride (for my mariner husband).  It was a gorgeous day for it, and we spent a good while wandering around the island – through the old abbey where we encountered a man who broke into song, inspired by the acoustics of a little chapel room.  This is the kind of place I love – a partially ruined old stone building with LOTS of character, tons of fun to photograph.  The island also had remnants of battlements from WWI and WWII.  Wee baby seagulls were almost done fledging, so the adults were still on alert.  Doug happened to step just a little too close to the edge of the path where a fledgeling was hiding on the ground and he got dive bombed by an adult gull.  Hilarious.  He kept ducking down the whole walk back, thinking he’d be attacked again.  Sometimes it pays to be the short one since they didn’t bother me at all!  The boat took us back down the Firth of Forth, underneath the bridges, including the Forth Bridge which only carries rail traffic and was opened in 1890!  On the trip back, we also saw a few seals in the water and basking on buoys as it got colder and started to rain.  When we got back, we made our way to pre-dinner pints, then to dinner where we had things like Haggis nachos, including their famous, fresh caught haggis, and sat with a couple from Wales, a family from Belgium, and another group from Scotland.  Had a blast and spent a lot of time there, enjoying the random company and food.  Really lovely way to end our stay in Edinburgh, and I wish we could’ve had a few more days there.



Tuesday, 31 July 2012:
We woke up, had breakfast, and then it was off to the train station for a train to Inverness.  We arrived at Inverness and made it to our hotel by 2:30.  We had no real plans for the day, so we took a relaxed walk around Inverness, had an early dinner, and went back to the hotel for an early bedtime (and some more of the Olympics).

Oktoberfest 2012 – part 2

Wednesday, 26 September 2012
The trip on the night train was a little rough.  Doug and I were both coming down with some sort of illness (congestion & low grade fever) and neither of us really slept.  We got into Florence around 6am and found the bus station to catch the bus to Siena.  In my sickie fog, I had to ask a local (in Italian) where the station was because I couldn’t quite remember.  We found it, caught the bus without a problem, and made it to Siena around 7:30 or so.  It was still REALLY early, so we figured we’d find the hotel and leave our luggage until it was official check in time.  Well, between when I booked and when we arrived, the hotel had changed addresses, and we had no idea.  We stood outside, feverish and bewildered, until someone passing by saw us with our backpacks (and thank goodness I still remember enough Italian) and communicated that the hotel had moved, it was up the street.  It was still MUCH too early anyway, so we took up a spot in the Piazza del Campo and alternated taking naps on the sun-warmed bricks.  After we finally checked into the hotel, we found a pharmacy and some cold meds and then went back for a long nap since we were both pretty well beat.  It ended up being a very off day, but we needed the rest pretty badly.  We did manage to get up for a walk and dinner later in the evening and then it was back to the hotel for sleep.
Siena Panorama


Thursday, 27 September 2012
We had booked a tour with a local company, so we got up and met our guide, Gianni, at the entrance to our hotel.  It may have been much more expensive than renting a car and driving around ourselves, but not having to drive and having the knowledge that Gianni had was really worth it.  Gianni took us to some little known places, knew the best wineries to tour and sample, and taught us about the wineries and how they worked.  We visited during peak harvest season, so most of the operations were in full swing and really neat to see at that level.  We stopped at the Borgo San Felice which was once a town, but had been completely bought up by a hotel company.  The whole thing, except for one house, was a resort.  As Gianni explained, people slowly moved away, closer to Florence and Siena, and this little town out in the country was getting emptier and emptier.  It’s happened a few times, apparently, and all sorts of celebrities will rent out the town for a weekend for events.  We made two stops at wineries for wine tastings, had an incredible lunch at a small, family-run restaurant, and wandered through little Tuscan towns all day long.  We got back to Siena around 5pm, wandered around for a while, and found an amazing dinner – wild boar was ‘in season’ and pici was on the menu, so we had our fill of some very regional and typical Sienese food.


Friday, 28 September 2012
We got up early, found breakfast (espresso and a pastry) and got a taxi to the train station for the train to Rome and then out to Ostia.  There was a snafu with the hotel that I was pretty pissed about.  We booked the hotel four months in advance, but somehow they were overbooked and we got bumped to a ‘sister’ hotel that was further away and probably the most gaudy and tacky hotel I’ve ever seen.  Think Caribbean (palm trees, etc) meets Rome, meets China, with a military museum, ALL AT ONCE.  The room we were brought to was clean enough, but we couldn’t walk anywhere which was one of the benefits of the hotel I had originally booked at.  The plan for the day, since Rome was really a stop over for our flight to Brussels, was to go to Ostia Antica nearby.  It’s basically like Pompeii without the volcanic activity.  Really, IMHO, better than Pompeii, because you don’t have to go through Naples and it feels SO much bigger.  We spent the afternoon wandering through the ruins, and then went off to find dinner.  Well, the restaurants didn’t open till 7:30 or 8pm, and were pretty firm about that time, so we walked around and had a glass of wine at a cafe to waste time.  We ended up at a really wonderful little place that even gave us a complimentary cordial to finish the incredible dinner.  We got our pickup back to the hotel and prepared for the flight the following day.  By this point we were both feeling better and not hitting the cold medicine as much!
Saturday, 29 September 2012
The hotel had a shuttle service to the airport which was nearby in Fiumicino, so that was thankfully an easy transfer.  Our flight was pretty short and we arrived in Brussels in the early afternoon.  A short train ride later and we were brought practically to the front door of our hotel.  Not bad!  The hotel was a B&B based out of an artist’s studio and the retired couple who ran the whole operation were really sweet.  The rooms were SPACIOUS and each had a different theme and color scheme.  Really neat – it felt so comfortable and like home.  Breakfast consisted of bread brought up in the morning with a layout of spreads (jam, nutella, etc) and coffee/tea, all do-it-yourself in the kitchen on your floor.  I really loved this setup and how well it worked.  We had been in Brussels the year prior, so we had a pretty good handle of where we were and where we wanted to go.  First stop was the Cantillon Brewery, my personal favorite brewery, ever.  They still make beer in the old fashion, using wild yeast, and have such a limited production that we can’t get it at home, so we brought a few bottles home.  Then it was off to Moeder Lambic for a few more beers before dinner.  The beer tends to be not as strong (ABV 5% or so), so it’s easy to sit around and enjoy a beer or three and not get totally sloshed.  We walked around the area around our hotel for a while, saw the Manneken Pis and the usual crowd gathered around him, had dinner, and made it back to the hotel.


Sunday, 30 September 2012
We figured not much would be open on Sunday, so we decided to head back to the Military History Museum since we knew we missed a section of it the last time, plus, it’s free to enter!  We did sleep in a little though and took our time getting going in the morning.  On the walk there, we wandered through a flea market and oogled all the things on display, mostly antiques.  Turned out that we didn’t miss nearly as much as we thought we did at the museum, but we did get to go to the roof top and see a full panorama of Brussels which was pretty neat.  The musuem also had a special exhibit on the day-to-day items of soldiers during World War I and II which was pretty fascinating.  The things they brought with them, the things they were issued, things they made themselves.  After the museum, we went to find Wafels and Frites, as you do in Brussels.  We made a few stops for food and beer as the day went on, lingering for a while here and there, having a taste of some AMAZING Chimay 150th anniversary beer.  There was of course, Delirium, and another stop at Moeder Lambic before dinner which was Doug’s favorite, Waterzooi, and I had the Flemish Rabbit.  Brussels, I love you, and would love to spend more time seeing the rest of Belgium!


The following day, which I don’t need to make a whole entry about, was our flight home, involving a 7 hour layover in Washington, DC.  Ick.  The joys of frequent flyer miles flights.

Overall, the trip was incredible – from the crowded and crazy fun time at Oktoberfest, and then to the more relaxed trip through Italy and Brussels, it was really an awesome vacation.  If you’d like to see more photos, I’ve got the full set uploaded to flickr, here.

Oktoberfest 2012 – part 1

This is a VERY belated post from a trip we took in late September. Things have been really hectic since then and I haven’t been able to sit down and put it all in a blog post, so FINALLY, here it is.  I’m splitting this into two parts because the first half of the trip was Oktoberfest and the second half was a mini-trip through Italy and Brussels.  We used frequent flyer miles for the flights, so we ended up having to fly through Rome and Brussels to get home anyway, so it made sense to extend the layovers and make a bonus vacation out of it.

Friday, 21 September, 2012
Landed in Munich where I met my husband and two of his friends from work who had arrived straight from their ship earlier that day. Made my way through the incredibly crowded metro system and met them at the train station. We split up and got settled in our respective hotels (all three different) and met to go out for lunch at the Augustiner Keller.  We were all pretty tired after the travel (the guys got in at about 6am local time), so we decided a nap was a good idea and headed back to our hotels with a plan to meet up later for dinner and beer (as you do in Germany, during Oktoberfest).  Well that didn’t quite happen.  Doug and I were the only two who woke back up.  We did manage to go out shopping for Dirndl and Lederhosen though, ready for the opening day on Saturday.




Saturday, 22 September, 2012
Got up and had breakfast at our hotel (the spread was AMAZING at the breakfast buffet).  Got together with everyone and headed out to watch the parade.  It was drizzly and cold, but we were determined.  Grabbed some beers on the way to enjoy at the parade and grabbed a pretty decent spot.  The first man down, opening the parade, was a stout man leading two dachshunds.  After that, Wagon after wagon of beer barrels rolled by, each wagon representing a tent at the fest grounds or a brewery in Germany.  Then it really started to pour down rain, as the parade was finishing.  We scrambled down the street to the entrance to the grounds and tried to get into a tent which just wasn’t happening.  We turned around and went back out into the rain, off to find somewhere to eat and drink, but everything was full.  Finally we made our way back to the Augustiner Keller from yesterday, hoping they still had room indoors.  THEY DID.  A very nice waitress ushered us to a table that was reserved for later that day, but we had enough time to eat, so it was no big deal.  Turns out the folks who had reserved the table never showed up, so we spent a good long while inside, drying off, and enjoying food and drink.  It FINALLY stopped raining, so back to the fest grounds we went.  The guys hopped some rides (bumper cars, and some ridiculous scrambler-on-steroids type ride), and we had another pint or two and some sausage.  As it got dark, we found our way into the Hacker-Pschorr tent, well, the outside anyway, and met two nice young men from Venice, and two other guys from England.  Had a blast.  Went back to our hotels to try it again the next day.





Sunday, September 23, 2012
Again, we had plans for everyone to meet together, and it never really happened, so, it was down to me, Doug, and Paul.  Doug and I got stopped by a huge parade that we stood to watch for a while.  The same man with the two dachshunds from yesterday opened the parade again – all the service companies involved in Oktoberfest started this one. We walked around and did a little shopping, eventually having lunch at Schneider Weiss.  We wandered around the fest grounds for a bit and made it into the Augustiner tent, and found a table!  Granted, it was later on in the day, and the place was still shoulder-to-shoulder, but we found an empty spot and grabbed it.  We sat talking to a bunch of random people at the table, and Doug even found his slightly older beard twin (he grew that out just for Oktoberfest).  Lots of laughs, and it was an incredible time.  No one in our group speaks much (any?) German, but it’s amazing what you can get across without words.  Google Translate on the phone was pretty helpful too, but most people seemed to speak at least a few words of English.  After the tent closed, the guys did another round of bumper cars, and somehow we ended up at a bar on the way back which was really crazy.  It was a LONG night, and we were sure to sleep in LATE the next day.


Monday, 24 September, 2012
We managed to make it to Mike’s Bike Tour, a little worse for wear, but had a blast on the tour, even if it rained.  AGAIN.  After the tour was over, we went to the Hofbrauhaus since it was right at Mike’s Bike Tour shop where the tour ended.  We sat with a few guys who were in our bike tour group and found two other Americans to add to our table as well.  Always a good time  🙂   We split off and wandered around the fairgrounds for a while, having a beer on a carousel small beer tent, and enjoying all kinds of fair food – chocolate covered fruit, candied nuts, sausage, etc.  Really, the whole of Oktoberfest is like an enormous state fair with LOTS AND LOTS of beer.
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
We signed up for the tour of the concentration camp at Dachau since we’d had plenty enough of the fairgrounds and wanted to do something cultural.  I had been to Dachau almost 10 years ago, but didn’t do a proper tour, so I’m sure I missed a lot.  Turns out the place had gone through some massive changes – the entrance was in a different spot, and overall, the grounds and buildings had been upgraded with better exhibits.  Our guide was really wonderful, in spite of the horrific history that happened there, and was able to present everything in a clear manner without trying to diminish what had happened there.  After we got back (it was almost a full day tour), we went back to the grounds for one last go-through (and I needed to pick up a postcard), and the guys used up the rest of their ride tokens.  Doug and I were hopping on the night train to Florence, Italy, so we parted ways and off we went.